Contributor Spotlight: Cara Chamberlain

As a writer, I have absolutely no discipline. Some people write something every day. I don’t. Other people carefully set aside specific times and places for writing. I don’t. I guess I don’t even like to think of myself as a writer. It’s a little embarrassing. Like having a wart or a rash that you’d rather keep covered. I don’t know why I feel this way. Perhaps it’s because I don’t see myself as a “real” writer. I don’t make a living from my writing, after all. (Of course, most “real” writers don’t either.) Perhaps it’s because writing seems like a private process (the slam poetry scene disheartens people like me who became writers because we weren’t very good talkers). Perhaps it’s because I admire people who do work that has socially practical, socially helpful results. And rarely does writing seem practical. A big part of me wants to make the world better. I’m not sure how my writing does that.

On the other hand, a recent report on NPR indicated that in just a few years, if current trends continue, 50% of jobs in the USA will be performed by robots. So what does that mean? Humans have got to fall back on what humans (and not robots) do best: art, beauty, craft, skill. Perhaps just trying to write a sonnet is a way to stay alive and therefore remain viable.

When I’m writing, of course, I don’t think about all this. Poetry is a chance to work with an impression, idea, or thing that nudges me. Fiction is a way to disengage from my ego and enter into those of my characters. Nonfiction prose (like this piece) is an opportunity to discover things I don’t know I know.

The beauty about writing, as opposed to the other arts, is that you can do it with very few tools. A computer with good software is nice, but all you really need is a notebook and a pencil. Very low tech. Another jab at mechanization.

Words, of course, are difficult to work with. They are irreducibly complex. Even such small questions as “Should I put the‘the’ in this sentence?” or “Where should the line break fall?” are enough to make me tear up what I’m writing. And the difference between my ambition for a poem, say, and how it becomes embodied in words is often heartbreaking. From being the greatest piece ever written to finding its unceremonious way into the trash can be a small step for just about everything I write. If something, though, survives the initial disillusionment, editing can go on and on and on, and sometimes (often) be as heady as the initial creating.

Writing is a curse that I wish had never struck me. Sometimes it makes me feel as if I live a double life: there’s all the stuff I do and see and feel, and then there’s all the stuff I put down in words to try to capture all the stuff I do and see and feel. Several times I have thrown out all I’ve written. But I just keep playing with words. Someday, I think, I will be mature enough to not ask for outside approbation. (And by “outside,” I include my post-first draft self.) Someday, I think, I will be merciful with myself and embrace what I’ve written as the evidence of a valid and valiant human soul wrestling with the external and externally internal world. So what if it didn’t measure up to snuff? Until then, though, I will keep writing and editing, editing, editing, to try to recapture that original beauty I envisioned before I wrote, that inspiration that broke into my daily existence and told me to stop everything for a while and write.